No, Really

12.05.13

Why Obamacare Could Help the Democrats in 2014

Here’s a nightmare for John Boehner: Eight or 10 months from now, Republicans’ obsession with getting rid of the health-care law is going to look awfully stupid to a majority of voters.

If some Republicans are sounding just a little bit desperate right now, I think I know why. “Obamacare is not just a broken website,” House Speaker John Boehner sputtered the other day in retreat as it emerged that the website is now working well. “This bill is fundamentally flawed.” He sure hopes he’s right about that—and by the way, Mister, it’s a law, not a bill. But I bet late at night, when he’s having that last smoke and thinking back over his day, he fears that he’s wrong and that the central Republican…“idea,” if you want to call it that, of the last three years—get rid of Obamacare—is going to look awfully stupid to a majority of Americans eight or 10 months from now.

If you haven’t gone to HealthCare.gov just for kicks, I certainly recommend now that you do. Pretend that you’re from a state that didn’t create an exchange, if you aren’t, because if you’re from a state with its own exchange, you’ll just be kicked to the state website, and what you want to test here is the federal one. So just choose a yahoo state that didn’t play ball, where the law was mocked as just so much socialism.

I just did, for the first time in weeks, an hour before scribbling these sentences. I was amazed. It was lightning fast. Explanations were clear and straightforward. Instead of bureaucratese, I encountered something I didn’t expect at all: plain English!

And here’s the key thing. It gave me loads of choices. I pretended to be a 35-year-old man from Kansas with a spouse and child. Without even having to enter my fake income, the site delivered me in a split second to a page with loads of plan options.

Choice. That’s what America’s about. As I heard Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) say on Alex Wagner’s show a couple of weeks ago, we’re a nation of shoppers. It’s what we do best. Alas, he is correct. That’s what we want. From TVs to smartphones to flavors of potato chip that have been stretched to include ketchup and dill pickle (who eats those?), we believe that endless options are our right.

How many options? An amazing 42, to be precise. Forty-two plans! That might be more than the number of available potato-chip flavors in America. I would have to think it will shock people, in a highly positive way, to see they have so many choices. And most of all, it will feel…American. Something that offers a person 42 options ain’t socialism, as Americans know in their bones.

The plans ranged from $70 a month, which would have covered only me, to $742 a month for the Rolls-Royce family version, with $0 deductible and $6,500 out-of-pocket. It was an astonishing menu. And take it from a guy who just moved house and has been on the phone and online interminably with private-sector service-providers, mostly but hardly limited to the cable/Internet/phone company: This looked easy. The interface was great, really user-friendly, really clear.

Now, most of these plans weren’t cheap. Health insurance isn’t cheap. For example, a middle-of-the-pack silver plan looked like this: $472 a month; a $7,500 family deductible; a $12,700 out-of-pocket maximum. Those aren’t cheap. But a $10 copay for a doctor’s visit, $75 to see a specialist, and just $15 for a generic prescription. That’s not bad at all.

While I’ve known Republicans were on the wrong side of history, I have feared they were on the right side of the politics. Well, I’m starting to think otherwise.

So yes, Mr. Speaker, it’s more than a website. It’s a chance for people who’ve eschewed insurance for years to buy it and take their kids to a doctor and even to a specialist when needed. Individuals will have to decide for themselves whether that buys them $5,664 in peace of mind (that’s $472 times 12), but I suspect a lot of people will decide that it sure does.

And this is where Republicans, if they’re looking around the corner, might be freaking out. They are going to emphasize the horror stories going forward, and those stories will exist. The Democrats will emphasize the violin stories, and they will exist, too.

But in between the decontextualized disasters and the stories with Hollywood endings will be millions of people to whom nothing particularly dramatic, but something very positive indeed, will have happened. They got insurance, or decent insurance, for the first time in their lives. They went and got their first physical in years. They had that bad back checked out finally. They took their child to an eye doctor and got her glasses. That’s not dramatic enough for a television ad, but any parent will understand that a child going from struggling with reading to being able to read easily at school is plenty dramatic.

I’ve known for a long time the Republicans were on the wrong side of history here. Forty-something million uninsured in this impossibly rich country, and they don’t want to do a thing about it. And don’t fall for their “plans.” They’re unworkable. They’re unworkable because the Republicans aren’t willing to spend the money that experts all say is required to make plans workable. And they aren’t willing to spend the money because spending money acknowledges the existence of a common purpose in this nation, and they certainly can’t acknowledge a common purpose, unless it’s war.

So while I’ve known they were on the wrong side of history, I have feared they were on the right side of the politics. Well, I’m starting to think otherwise. No American who has 42 choices is going to feel like the jackboot of the state is stomping on his neck. And sometime next year, the people in the states that didn’t take Medicaid money are going to start noticing something else: that in a lot of cases, they’re going to be paying more for the same plan that a person in a participating state is paying. How’s that going to go down, Rick Perry?

Mr. Speaker, light up another one. It’s going to be a long night.